When I started this blog back in January of 2012, it was my intent to make at least one trip to Beaver Lake in my canoe each month of the year. Mission accomplished! In my last blog post, I said that I had been out 16 times. Well, I lied. The truth is, after going through my notes and counting one trip in a power boat with my friend Jim Wimberly and one trip hiking the shoreline, I discovered I was on Beaver Lake 20 times during 2012!
Looking back, I can tell you I learned a few things. For one, canoeing solo on a lake in heavy wind is not pleasant. Ergo, this month has conspired to keep me off of the lake. While temperatures have been mild enough, the wind has been howling. And when one weekend did turn out to be suitable for an adventure, I was called out of town on personal business. So I start 2013 by looking back at 2012.
I took my first trip last year on Jan. 21, when I put in at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission landing below the Highway 45 bridge. Sometimes this landing is lake and sometimes river depending on the surface elevation of Beaver Lake. On this day, it was about a half mile down river to where the lake began. Along the way, I passed the confluence of the White River with Richland Creek. It was cold but bearable, and quiet.
In February, I put my canoe in at a wide spot on Habberton Road and paddled out to the lake at Neill’s Bluff. Traveling down-lake, Neill’s Bluff is likely the first feature that you would recognize as a bluff. I have always liked bluffs. But it was on this trip when I started to realize that bluffs were the defining feature of Beaver Lake. A bald eagle flying overhead graced the trip as well as a flock of squawking geese. Otherwise it was quiet and cold.
Ah spring! That’s when things started happening! During March, a flood mid-month caused the lake elevation to rise to 1126 feet. The water turned yellowish brown from silt and flotsam floated everywhere. March 24 was mild enough that I was able to talk Sharon, my wife, into going along. We put in at the Blue Springs launching ramp and paddled upstream along Cedar Bluff. Wildflower season was just kicking in. Once again, the base of the bluff was where it was happening. These areas are inaccessible to shore side access so wildflowers grow in every little batch of dirt.
We liked it so much that we went out again on the 25th and then I made a solo trip on the 29th. Boats were becoming more numerous and the birds were raucous. The wildflower show continued through April and into May.
During April we made two trips to the Beav-o-Rama area. Along the towering bluffs across from Beav-o-Rama, we discovered large crevices and spires and even a small natural bridge. It seemed that every flat spot on the bluff above the waterline contained a couple of geese preparing for a family. High up on the bluff, rock cedars hung on to whatever they could. The water was becoming more clear, but still murky.
In May, you might say I went “to the birds” (I’m getting all Ralph Waldo Emerson here). On my trip to the bluffs north of Blue Springs Village, I counted 18 different species including a Baltimore oriole. I spent a good bit of the morning chasing a momma wood duck and five wood ducklings along the base of the bluff. They outran me. It was a blast!
By June, there was no question that we were in for a long dry summer. Temperatures were up and mornings were the time for canoeing. Later in the day, folks on Jet Skis and wake boards ruled the water. The lake was dropping and more shoreline was becoming exposed. Where I had been right next to the shoreline vegetation earlier, I was now five to 10 feet below. Birds were still abundant, but not so raucous. On the 23rd of June, I explored the War Eagle arm near Hickory Flat. Red headed woodpeckers made the day, and would continue to do so for several weeks. I made two additional trips in June, one from War Eagle marina on the White River arm and another to Hogscald Holler down-lake. It was interesting to note the change in character of the lake from the upper end, where I had been exploring, and the wide open water near Hogscald. Almost every trip we saw deer.
July and August brought more of the same. Since it was hot, we made a point of getting out early. During July, my friends Steve Patterson and Thad Scott went along on a trip to Van Hollow. Later, I made three trips to the Hickory Creek area. Van Hollow is a special place located about mid-lake. The Hobbs Estate State Park and Conservation area protects several miles of shoreline. As you might imagine, local wildlife take full advantage of the solitude.
The bluffs in the Hickory Creek area are, in my opinion, the most spectacular on the lake. Maybe it is because the deeper water puts you right at the face of the bluff. The rock formations make arches overhangs. The colors include grays, whites, orange/yellow and blues. The water level continued to drop. While the water was clearer than earlier in the year, it continued to have a green color.
On Aug. 9, Jim Wimberly and I took his motor boat down lake and then up to the headwaters of Indian Creek. The Nature Conservancy and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission recently purchased a track of land here called the Devil’s Eyebrow. The purchase protects about 3 ½ miles of protected shoreline in Indian Creek.
All summer, I had looked forward to fall with anticipation of a burst of color and perfect weather. Maybe it was because of the drought, but the fall color disappointed this year. And I was surprised by the amount of wind. Rain returned to the area briefly.
On Sept. 15, I made a solo trip out from Beav-o-Rama in the rain where I observed two families of beavers going about their business. On Sept. 23, Steve Patterson, Sharon and I paddled into Nelson Hollow, where we explored the rock formations, including a cave that we could paddle into in our 17-foot canoe. Then, we fought the 20 mile-per-hour wind back to the car near Hickory Creek.
In October, the world was quiet. Sharon and I paddled along in the Blue Springs Village area. The wind in November kept me off the lake completely. I did hike to Shaddox Hollow where I observed Langmuir Streaks.
As winter approached, the winds continued and it became necessary to pick trips where the bluffs provided shelter. On Dec. 23, Sharon and I headed out for one last trip to the War Eagle arm, where we hugged the bluff along the south side for protection from the southwest wind. The Eagles were back. Nice.
If there was one thing that surprised me about my year observing Beaver Lake, it was the amount of undeveloped shoreline. I should have known that because I have been on Beaver literally hundreds of times, but I never before took time to get up close and look. I’m glad I did.